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RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Our Bubbly was a partridge out of his pear tree

The embroidered kneeler in Stoughton church reminded me of Bubbly, the French-cum-Chukor partridge we kept as a pet years ago.

I found him out in the wilds, somewhere by Gumber Farm near Madehurst. He was a day old and quite lost.

He was cheeping away in the corn stubble, hoping that mother would hear his distress call, but she had lost track of the family.

I scanned the wide field with my bins for any sign of her and the others, but it was hopeless. So I put him in my pocket and carried on.

Three hours later he was home and being fed by my wife on boiled egg and breadcrumbs.

She had recently reared exotic breeds of pheasants for landowner/art collector/poet Edward James at his house at Monkton on West Dean Estate and had been successful with the blue-eared, Lady Amherst, and silver pheasants among all the others.

They are all fussy birds and have to have things just right before breeding and rearing their chicks, so Bubbly was no mystery.

Having fed, his tiny head would droop and he would be asleep. He wasn’t much bigger than a bumblebee.

He grew apace and would come for walks in the woods.

He would find food all the while, that we hardly noticed: a tiny toadstool here, a clover leaf there, a creeping fly or a caterpillar no larger than a thread.

In the house he knew his place: by the stove.

When very tired, he would lie on the warm marble slab like a baby, legs and head stretched out flat, one wing tucked around himself, the other open wide underneath, like a mattress.

Then we had to visit the family in Norfolk.

There were walks there as well, down the water meadows, with thistle seeds and buttercup leaves, and little pecks from mushrooms.

He found Devon pretty good too, and refreshing after a five-hour journey in his box in the back of the car with the children. Woolacombe beach had dry sand where he could dust bathe.

But he wanted to run into the waves with us too, so my wife had to hold him until we returned. She would take him for strolls in the dunes where he gobbled up tiny spiders and the leaves of bird’sfoot trefoil.

In the autumn we had a party in the house with a special bottle of champagne for a birthday. The cork hit the ceiling and flew around in all directions, but didn’t hit any living creature thank goodness. I got told off for that. Bubbly flew up onto the top of the china cabinet and would not come down again until the next morning.

At Christmas we had our party outside with fireworks. He was joining in the fun, but did not like the rockets and flew off into the pitch dark.

I found him 100 yards away, sheltering in the woodmens’ hut.

By the new year, he was perching outside in the cherry tree at night.

One morning in early March, he flew up to our open bedroom window, called long and loud for several minutes until we woke up and flew off in a straight line towards the rising sun.

We never saw him again.

 

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